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Robert Boyle grew up in southwestern Ontario, where he developed his fascination with and love for science and the natural world. He went on to make many contributions to the mining industry; however the most important was his pioneering work in geochemistry. He helped develop geochemical methods specifically suited to the Canadian environment and, through experience gained in the field, made them truly practical tools in mineral exploration.
After graduating from secondary school, Boyle worked for a prospecting syndicate until 1939, when war broke out in Europe. While overseas serving his country, he took geology courses at London’s Imperial College, as well as correspondence courses from Queen’s University in Kingston. After returning to Canada, he resumed his studies and obtained a B.A.Sc. In mining geology from the University of Toronto in 1949. He spent summers mapping and working at mine sites, including the Yellowknife gold camp, which aroused in him a deep interest in the genesis and chemistry of gold deposits. He gained his M.A.Sc. In 1950 and his Ph.D. in 1953.
In 1952, Boyle joined the Geological Survey of Canada and continued his Yellowknife work. There, he developed his lateral secretionist theories which have played an important role in understanding the formation and interpretation of endogenic haloes around some types of mineral deposits.
In 1953, he explored the Keno Hill area of the Yukon, where his interest in surficial geochemistry blossomed. This work was a turning point in the geochemistry at the GSC, and Boyle’s results, plus his later work in the area with C.F. Gleeson, were published in a series of papers. Keno Hill was the first demonstration (outside of the Soviet Union) that geochemistry did work in the permafrost environment. The methods that `Boyle developed at Keno Hill were used to revive what was at that time a dying mining camp. Operations continued into the 1980s.
In 1955, Boyle persuaded the GSC to set up a laboratory for geochemical prospecting studies. He began a mapping program in the Maritimes, where he carried out the first rapid “heavy metals” regional survey. As the division expanded over the year, work on developing geochemical methods specifically suited to the Canadian environments gained new impetus.
In recognition of his pioneering work in geochemical prospecting in Canada, Boyle was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada in 1957. Later, he was involved in the preparation of documents relating to the role and importance of geochemistry in Canada, which were presented to the government to help formulate a coherent science policy.
Boyle’s subsequent work was varied and included a stint at the Cobalt silver camp of Ontario. After stepping down as Geochemistry Section Head in 1967, he became a “special projects” scientist, directing some efforts to his first love, precious metals. He published many papers, including “Gold: History and Genesis of Deposits” in 1987, as well as papers on geochemical prospecting for other deposits, such as thorium and uranium.
Boyle’s contributions to science and geochemistry have been recognized by industry organizations, but he did not rest on these laurels. He became an ambassador for his profession and was always ready to work with, encourage, advise and direct young earth scientists in their quest for knowledge in the field of exploration geochemistry and ore deposits.